Cumbria’s Fell Ponies

by Jane Firth

As you walk the Ullswater Way, you may be lucky enough to come across some of Cumbria’s fell ponies. They were once widely used as working ponies, taking wool to market, pulling ploughs and working in the mines but there are now only about 6500 fell ponies left worldwide and they are classified as ‘vulnerable’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.  You may spot them high up on the fells above Ullswater where they are being used for ‘conservation grazing’ because they eat and trample in very different ways from sheep.

The ancestor of the Cumbrian Fell pony (and the Dales pony) is believed to be the now-extinct Galloway. They are thought to have originated on the England/Scotland border before the Romans arrived.

The Vikings used Fell ponies to plough, pull sledges, as pack animals and to ride. The working animals were kept in the villages and the breeding stock lived up on the fells.

From the 11th Century, fell ponies were used to carry fleeces, woollen goods, cheese, meat preserves and metal ores long distances. By the 13th Century this practice had evolved into pack trains, with the front pony wearing bells so that the others could follow it in poor weather. In the winter of 1492-3, when fine wool was one of Britains largest exports, 11 Kendal traders made 14 journeys to Southampton carrying cloth. These pack pony trains continued into the 20th Century. 

Fell Ponies were used as pit ponies where seams were deep enough. They were also used above ground in collieries for moving machinery. They transported copper, iron and lead ores from mines to smelting work in the north west and they carried iron and lead long distances across the north of England to Newcastle and returned with coal.

The ponies also carried dairy products from the farms above the pits into towns. Even after the arrival of canals and railways pack ponies remained essential for reaching remote communities. They were used to deliver mail to rural areas and are still used for carrying grouse panniers and stags down from the moors.

Today, Fell Ponies are being used again as driving ponies. They have a great deal of stamina and are very sure-footed, even on rough or marshy ground. Most recently, they have started to be used to carry footpath repair equipment to remote areas of the Lake District. Fix the Fells, a charity whose rangers and volunteers maintain the Lake District trails, have used them to carry fleeces to a high trail in the Langdales. Here the wool will be placed on a boggy area before trail materials are  laid on top so the trail will float on the bog rather than sinking in to it. See a video about the project here.

Fell ponies are usually a very dark brown or black with only very small amounts of white, such as a star on their forehead. However, every so often you see white (grey) ones. We know that the Cistercian monks at Furness Abbey traditionally rode white ponies. When Furness abbey fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537, the ponies were released to the wild and merged with the wild Cumbrian Fell ponies. It is thought that this explains the grey fell ponies we see in the Lakes today. There are some on the fells above Aira Force.

Fell ponies are increasingly valued for their role in conservation grazing on the fells. They help increase biodiversity, for example by controlling the spread of gorse and trampling the area to create open ground where seeds can germinate. 

However, there is concern that fell ponies may lose their ability to survive year-round on the fells if future Stewardship Schemes result in them being removed from the fells for a number of months each winter. Foals born and raised on the fells are hardy enough to survive the Lake District winters and, like Herdwick sheep, they become hefted to their home area, learning the terrain from their mothers.  There are worries that these traits will be lost if the ponies have to be brought off the fells each winter.

The Fell Pony has been a part of the Ullswater Valley’s history since Roman times.  They have helped shape our landscape and been an integral part of our cultural heritage, invaluable in the past for transporting both agricultural produce and mined materials. Today their role has changed, being increasingly valued for outdoor sports such as riding and trekking and recognised as important agents in conservation grazing of the fells. 

When you next see a fell pony, why not take a moment to remember their rich cultural heritage and the role they have played in shaping our landscape.

All photographs by Jane Firth

For more information

Fell Pony Heritage Trust www.fpht.co.uk

Rare Breeds Survival Trust https://www.rbst.org.uk/fell-pony 

Pleased to welcome you back

Thanks to everyone who has stayed at home during the last few months. We are pleased that we are now able to welcome visitors back to the Ullswater Valley but to protect our countryside and those who live and work here we need everyone to follow some simple guidelines.

Countryside Code

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • Park carefully – don’t park anywhere outside a car park space.
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Follow paths but give way to others when it’s narrow

Protect the Natural Environment

  • Leave no trace – take all your litter home
  • Don’t have BBQs or fires
  • Dog poo – bag it and bin it
  • Keep dogs under control

Enjoy the Outdoors

  • Plan ahead, check what facilities are open
  • Follow advice and local signs and obey social distancing measures

Useful Links for Planning your Visit

Lake District National Park car park and toilet information: This site lists the main car parks in the valley and whether they have toilet facilities. It tells you how you will need to pay and how busy the car park is likely to be.

Ullswater Steamers: Check here for the Steamer timetable and to book your tickets online.

National Trust: Check here for information on opening times, facilities, car park charges.

Lowther Castle and Gardens: Information about which areas and facilities are open.

Dalemain Mansion and Historic Gardens: Information about which areas and facilities are open.

Stagecoach Bus 508: Timetable for the 508, which goes from Penrith Station to Patterdale.

Arragon Cycles: For information on bike hire.

 

Summer on the Ullswater Way

As you make your plans why not take a look at Summer on the Ullswater Way – a series of photos, most from previous summers, of the Ullswater Valley during the summer months.

Heritage Trail Leaflet

You may also like to download the Friends of the Ullswater Way Heritage Trail Leaflet which has a map of the Ullswater Way with the heritage installations marked on it.

Heritage Trail Leaflet

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How the Lake was saved

The Story of Lord Birkett and the Ullswater Preservation Society

by Miles MacInnes

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“So small, so lovely, so vulnerable”

“Go away. Come again another day if you will…”  With these words, Norman, Lord Birkett QC closed what is arguably one of the finest speeches in modern Parliamentary history.

Manchester’s need for water

But to start at the beginning.  In the early 1960’s Manchester was facing a serious water shortage. Their existing sources, including the reservoirs of Haweswater and Thirlmere, were insufficient to cater for a growing population and increasing industrial demand.

As a result, the Manchester Corporation Waterworks put forward a number of proposals for taking increased supplies from the Lake District, including Ullswater.  In September 1961, with very little notice and limited consultation, the Corporation announced its intentions which involved building a weir on the river Eamont at Pooley Bridge, effectively creating a reservoir and increasing the level of the lake by some 3ft (0.9m).   Extracted water would be pumped to Haweswater through a tunnel driven into the fellside.

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Raising the lake level by three feet may not seem much, but it would have affected roads round the lake and the many boathouses.  It would also have created an unsightly tide mark on the lake shore as water levels fluctuated.

The Corporation promoted a Bill to the 1961/62 Session of Parliament which included these proposals.

The Campaign

There was an immediate and vociferous public outcry – the ‘Ullswater Preservation Society’ (formed in the 1930’s to protect and preserve the Ullswater valley) quickly organized a petition of over 500,000 signatures – a remarkable achievement remembering that there was no social media, internet or emails.

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Public meetings were held under the banner of ‘Hands off Ullswater’.  Local politicians, councils, the ‘Cumberland & Westmorland Herald’ and the then Lake District Planning Board all lent their support.

Prominent in the campaign were Willie Vane MP (the first Lord Inglewood), James, 6th Earl of Lonsdale and Bishop Bloomer of Carlisle, all of whom spoke in the subsequent Lords debate. Another objector was Ted Short MP, a respected LabourMP, born in Warcop, who subsequently became Lord Glenamara of Glenridding, where he had a holiday home for many years.

The Bill was debated in the House of Lords on 8 February 1962. Passionate speeches from all sides of the House and most notably by Lord Birkett QC resulted in the approval, by 70 votes to 36, of a motion to exclude Ullswater from the Bill.

William Norman Birkett, 1stBaron Birkett of Ulverston, Kt, PC, QC

190801 Birkett photo 3William Norman Birkett was born in Ulverston on 6thSeptember 1883 and died in London on 10 February 1962 – a sadly relevant date.

Although Ulverston was then in Lancashire, he was certainly a passionate Lakelander who loved and cherished the Lakes -described in his famous speech as -‘so small, so lovely, so vulnerable’.

The son of drapers, with whom he worked initially, he left school at 16, was a Methodist Preacher, President of the Cambridge University Union, Liberal MP, Barrister, QC, and Court of Appeal Judge. He was ennobled in 1958.

He was described as “one of the most prominent liberal barristers in the first half of the 20th century”.

Lord Birkett’s powerful speech, “deeply felt and eloquent”, is rightly considered one of the finest in modern Parliamentary history and undoubtedly saved the lake “for all people for all time”.

He concluded – “Thus far and no farther. Go away. Come again another day, if you will. But in the meantime, do that which ought to have been done before. Produce the hydrological data on which the House can come to a proper decision. Until that is done, you have no right whatever to invade the sanctity of a National Park”.

Tragically, Lord Birkett died of a heart attack a few days later.  He is best remembered for this final triumph which is commemorated by the naming of Birkett Fell overlooking the west shore of the lake, a plaque on the lake shore below Hallin Fell and now the commemoration on the Ullswater Way by the Steamer pier house in Pooley Bridge.  In addition, each summer the Ullswater Yacht Club stages the Birkett Trophy – a ‘must do’ regatta.

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The conclusion

However, that is not the end of the story. Manchester’s reaction was typical of their arrogant attitude – a few days after the debate, an oddly named Councilor Onions commented: – “They can stop gloating down at Ullswater for we need that water and intend to get it”.

In 1965 a revised and much reduced scheme was proposed but again opposed by the Ullswater Preservation Society. However, following a lengthy Public Enquiry in the summer of 1965 and a further debate in the House of Lords in January 1967, these much watered down proposals were finally approved.

Water is now taken from Ullswater by tunnel to Haweswater under strictly controlled conditions which prevent abstraction when water levels fall.  A huge underground pumping station at Parkfoot Holiday Park, between Pooley Bridge and Howtown is largely unnoticed.

MMI June 2020

Based on an Understanding Ullswater Evening Talk

 

Sheep of the Ullswater Valley

by Jane Firth

Here in the Ullswater Valley we are coming to the end of this year’s lambing season, the shepherd’s busiest time of year. Sounds of lambs and their mothers calling to one another are a constant addition to the bird song and playful young lambs are a joy to watch.

Although the Herdwick is the native breed of the Lake District you might be surprised by how many other varieties you can find in the Ullswater valley. Take a look at the slideshow below and see how many you recognise.

Herdwicks

The Herdwick is the native breed of the Lake District, championed by Beatrix Potter. It is thought to have been brought to this country by Norse settlers over 1000 years ago. The name comes from the Old Norse word herdvyck meaning sheep pasture and is recorded in 12th Century documents. It is a minority breed with 95% of the 50,000 sheep living within a 14 mile radius of Coniston. They are very hardy, living their entire lives on the fells with a very strong homing instinct – they never wander far from where they were born. The Cumbrian word for this is “hefted.” For this reason, when a farm is sold, the sheep are sold with the farm.

Herdwick wool naturally sheds water and dries more quickly than many wools – essential for surviving on the fells. However, because it is very course wool and it is not white, it belongs to the lowest price band of the Wool Marketing Board.  As a result, farmers pay more to have their sheep shorn than they receive for the wool, but shearing is still essential for the health of the sheep.

Off the sheep, Herdwick wool is used for Wool by Cumbria Carpets as well as recyclable, naturally fire-retardant insulation by Thermafleece.  More recently, the better quality wool has begun to be made into Herdwick Tweed which is naturally water-repellant. Poorer quality wool is being mixed with bracken harvested from the fells and made into fertiliser by Dalefoot Composts. There is even a company, Solidwool,  combining Herdwick wool with fibreglass to make furniture!

Herdwick lamb and mutton have a very distinct taste and are often on the menu at the Lake District’s top restaurants. They were even eaten at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation banquet in 1953. In 2013, Lakeland Herdwick meat received a Protected Designation of Origin from the European Union (like Champagne and Burgundy).

Herdwick lambs are born in late April or May when the weather in the Lake District is warmer. They are usually born black. When they are a year old (a “hogg), they are dark brown. As they mature, their coats become lighter, ranging from dark grey to almost white. Herdwick ewes are “polled” (have no horns); rams (or “tups) usually have horns.

Other sheep breeds in the Ullswater Valley

The Yorkshire Swaledale is a very common sheep in the Lake District with its distinctive black face, white muzzle and curly horns on both ewes and rams. They are the hardy moorland sheep of the Pennines. Their wool is used for tweeds, rugs and hand knitting. Like the Herdwick of the Cumbrian fells, Swaledales mature slowly but, nevertheless, in recent years their value has increased dramatically due to one key characteristic – they make excellent mothers.

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Swaledale

Swaledales may be crossed with Bluefaced Leicesters to create a hybrid known as the North Country Mule. The Mule has the best qualities of both parents. From their Swaledale mothers the Mule lambs get their hardiness, milking and mothering abilities; from their Bluefaced Leicester fathers, they get their increased size and lustrous wool.

The Bluefaced Leicesters have either a blue/grey face or a brown and white one. They also have Roman noses. The North Country Mules have black and white mottled faces and a hint of the Roman nose belonging to the Blue-faced Leicester father. They have high quality wool with a long, crimpey staple (the length of the wool) which is used for carpets and by hand-spinners.

Since Swaledales are such good mothers, older ewes who can no longer raise lambs on the fells are still valuable as experienced breeding ewes on better quality, lowland pasture.

North Country Mules may themselves be crossed with a lowland meat breed such as the Suffolk, with its floppy black ears, or the Dutch Texel, with its distinctive piggy face. The result of this cross is quick-maturing butchers’ lambs.

Farmers in Cumbria who have lowland pasture often keep Suffolks and Texels.

N Country Mule with MulexSuffolk lambs
North Country Mule with Mule x Suffolk lambs

Another sheep breed native to Cumbria is the Rough Fell but it is more commonly seen in South Cumbria and parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. It is very hardy and like the smaller Swaledales and Herdwicks, can endure the hardships of high moorland and fells. It is raised primarily for meat but there is a farmer in the Yorkshire Dales using Herdwick, Swaledale and Rough Fell wool to make Shepherdess tweed. Rough Fell sheep have a broad white patch across their black faces, and both sexes have horns.

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Rough Fell

Lastly, the Cheviot. This is a white-faced, hornless breed with distinctive pointy ears. It originated in the Cheviot Hills, on the borders of England and Scotland. It was recognised as a hardy sheep as early as 1372, surviving in windswept conditions. They have a strong constitution and good mothering instinct. They are not found high up on the fells in Cumbria but are frequently seen lower down. Their lambs mature faster than the slower growing Herdwick and Swaledale. The wool is used for tweeds, knitting, blankets and rugs.

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Cheviots

You will find all these sheep in the Ullswater Valley as well as some rarer breeds. Next time you walk the Ullswater Way see how many you can spot.

Please remember not to disturb or worry sheep. Above all, please keep your dog on a lead, even if they usually come when you call.

Springtime on the Ullswater Way

Thanks to everyone who is staying at home. We look forward to welcoming you back to the Ullswater Valley once the current situation passes.

In the meantime take a look at Springtime on the Ullswater Way – a series of photos from previous years that we hope will lift your spirits, bring back memories and encourage you to look forward to happier times.

Many thanks to our photographers – Anne Clarke, Tim Clarke, Jane Firth, Paul Harris, Gordon Lightburn, Cecilia McCabe and Janet Wedgwood.

The multiple challenges of managing recreation and biodiversity in a working landscape

Understanding Ullswater Evening Talk by Pete Barron, Glenridding Common Land Manager, John Muir Trust

The John Muir Trust was established in 1983 to ‘Protect and enhance wild land for the benefit of both people and wildlife’. In 2017 they were awarded a 3 year lease on Glenridding Common which includes the summit of Helvellyn plus Swirral and Striding Edges.

In his talk, Pete Barron highlighted the achievements of the last two years, describing the range of tasks they have undertaken and the way in which the local community has been involved.

33% of all Commons in England are in Cumbria. A key aspect here is that Glenridding Common is a working landscape: two local farmers graze their sheep on this section of the Fells.

Achievements by JMT in the last two years include:

  • A winter conditions monitoring system from near the summit of Helvellyn that provides hourly temperature data to help winter climbers assess conditions before attempting a climb. The climactic conditions and the craggy terrain of Helvellyn provide a niche habitat for unusual plants, including three extremely rare alpine species (downy willow, alpine saxifrage and alpine meadow grass). These are vulnerable to damage by crampons and ice axes when the ground is not frozen solid.
  • Connecting and engaging with young people and sharing knowledge of wild sites with them.
  • Mitigating the effects of human footfall and especially of large events – e.g. the JMT can warn event organisers where the rare plants are along a planned route for e.g. fell-running
  • Re-seeding the summit of Helvellyn. Twenty six tons of stone (removed from cairns) have been scattered to discourage walkers from straying from the path and the area has been re-seeded with a mix of grasses. The vegetation has already recovered significantly.Work party 8 18 Helvellyn summit

Work Party on Helvellyn Summit © Pete Barron

  • Local residents are supporting the JMT’s programme to increase the population of rare alpine plants on the Helvellyn range. Willow grown from cuttings and a range of alpine plants grown from seed have been cared for by local residents before being planted out on the rock face of the Helvellyn coves by JMT and Natural England. Water avens & sawort

Water avons and sawort © Pete Barron

Other rare species on the site that are being protected and encouraged are:

  • Dwarf Willow and Greenside Juniper which is in danger of disease and needs constant surveillance.
  • The Schelley fish in Red Tarn is an ice age relic and needs protecting. Red Tarn also contains England’s highest (in altitude) population of sticklebacks.
  • The Ring ouzel (mountain blackbird) is a declining species and needs monitoring. There are four pairs here at present. Other rare birdlife includes snow buntings in winter.
  • Mountain Ringlet, the only true Mountain Butterfly, can be seen on the wing on Raise in July

 

Other priorities and achievements include:

  • The leats (water management system) from the old Glenridding mine are part of industrial archaeology and need maintenance too
  • Education is very important aspect. MICCI (Moorland Indications of Climate Change Initiative)has  supported local schools, including Patterdale school,  helping to collect data such as water levels and peat depth.
  • The John Muir Trust award scheme encourages children and young people especially, to connect with, enjoy and care for the wild spaces https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/john-muir-award
  • Signage on the Fells – JMT joins in the debate about whether more signage of The Fells for walkers would be a good thing or not.

Cecilia McCabe

The Lowther Castle Loop

It was a perfect day to walk the 7.5 mile (13 km) Lowther Castle Loop – the latest addition to the Ullswater Way. From Lowther Castle, the circular route follows the banks of the Lowther river, through the hamlet of Helton and then up to Askham Fell with its panoramic views, before returning through the charming village of Askham.

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The route is clearly marked with the distinctive yellow logo of the Ullswater Way Lowther Castle Loop and clearly described in the new edition of the Ullswater Way Guide.

From Lowther Castle car park, the walk begins by following the castle walls before entering woodland and descending to follow the meandering River Lowther. Woodland gives way to more open deer park and just before Crookwath bridge the path approaches the riverbank – a perfect spot to pause a while, enjoy the views and, if you are lucky as we were,  see a kingfisher fly past.

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After crossing the bridge the route continues through hay meadows to the charming village of Helton.  A short climb out of the village leads to the vast expanse of Askham Fell.

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The prominent Cop Stone is the first hint that Askham Fell is rich in ancient history. The track from the Cop Stone across the fell passes a series of burial cairns and stone circles, suggesting the area  was of special importance to our Bronze and Iron Age ancestors.

The fell is also home to sheep and fell ponies.

After about a mile, the Lowther Loop takes a sharp right turn off the main track to head downhill towards Askham but it is definitely worth walking on a short distance to see the wonderful views over Ullswater and the Helvellyn range. Then return to the junction and take the sign to Lowther Castle.

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The route descends from the fell into the picturesque village of Askham, with its Punchbowl Inn, Queen’s Head Inn, Village shop and Askham Hall cafe, before crossing the River Lowther and climbing through woodland back to Lowther Castle and the promise of a delicious homemade scone at the Castle cafe.

An excellent day’s walk, full of variety and with stunning views. Definitely one to repeat!

by Anne Clarke

For more information see Lowther Castle website

 

Crowdfunding for urgent maintenance work on the Ullswater Way

Walking the 22 mile Ullswater Way is a challenge. Just like taking care of its surrounding footpaths. The path welcomes thousands of visitors each year but this popularity comes at a cost.

Users Ullswater Way

Urgent maintenance work is needed to reduce the impact of the busy summer season ahead so the Lake District Foundation have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £5,000 by the end of April.

The route needs drainage works, improvements to the path surface, new drystone walling, waymarker signs and help to maintain the general upkeep to ensure the path is litter free.

The money raised through this appeal will be used for this work to be carried out by the Lake District National Park ranger team and volunteers.

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It only takes a small donation to make a big difference:

  • £5 helps pay for a new finger post
  • £10 helps pay for a new gate
  • £25 helps pay for a new section of surface path
  • £50 pays for one metre of drystone wall
  • £100 covers the cost of planting an acre of new native woodland
  • £200 could pay for a day’s digger time or a day’s work for a skilled contractor to carry out the repair work

Please donate here to support the invaluable work of the rangers and volunteers.

Caroline Conway, The Lake District Foundation Campaign and Events Manager

Lake District Foundation SQUARE FORMAT PRINT

Dorothy’s Daffodils

Now is the time to share Dorothy Wordsworth’s excitement at an early sighting of our native daffodils along the shores of Ullswater.

Lakeside Daffodils near Gowbarrow

In her journal entry for 15th April 1801, she describes how they ‘tossed and reeled and danced, and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the lake; they looked so gay, ever dancing, ever changing.’

‘They grew among mossy stones about and about them; some rested their heads upon these stones, as on a pillow for weariness’.

Another line from that journal entry: ‘I never saw daffodils so beautiful’ is inscribed in the bar of the ‘Dorothy Gate’ situated just outside the Aira Force Tea Room.

The Tea Room is now open from 10.30 am – 4 pm and the Ullswater Steamers are running a mid-season timetable from Glenridding, Howtown and Pooley Bridge.

Steamers Timetable March 2019

And pause to think: Dorothy Wordsworth’s entry for this sighting was 15th April – ours is March 11th …

Cecilia Fry,   March 11th 2019

 

 

Ullswater Way Dalemain Loop – “The Four Bears Marmalade March”

The recently-opened Dalemain Loop is a 5 mile (8 km) circular route connecting with the Ullswater Way at Pooley Bridge. It leads the walker along the banks of the River Eamont,  through open pasturelands, to the imposing Dalemain mansion and on to the historic village of Dacre before returning to Pooley Bridge around the base of Dunmallard Hill. 

The Dalemain loop provides walkers with an opportunity to explore these historic pasturelands and parklands and imagine the lives of those who have lived and worked here over hundreds of years.  Be sure to allow time to linger at Dalemain and visit the house, which is mainly Elizabethan but has a beautiful Georgian facade.  Stroll through the gardens and taste the wonderful home cooking served in the Medieval Hall. In February you may be lucky enough to coincide with the World Marmalade Festival which takes place at Dalemain each year.

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As you approach the village of Dacre pause for a while to admire the imposing 14th century Dacre Castle.

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Be sure to visit Dacre’s church, with its four stone bears in the churchyard, and perhaps call in for refreshment at the Horse & Farrier Inn.

Some may wish to begin the route at Dalemain, arriving at Pooley Bridge in time for a cruise on the Ullswater Steamers before continuing the loop back to Dalemain.

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The route is clearly signposted and you can download a Map of the Dalemain Loop from the Lake District National Park website.

 

 

The Dalemain Loop is included in the Ullswater Way Official Guide, available for £4.99 at local retail outlets. £1 from each sale helps the National Park keep the Ullswater Way in good repair. 

Enjoy the walk!